The Current

Quebec's new immigration law could be attempt to win more powers from Ottawa: expert

Bill 9, the newly passed immigration legislation in Quebec, would allow the government to cancel thousands of in-progress immigration applications and impose a values test that would-be immigrants will need to pass in order to become a permanent resident.

The Quebec National Assembly passed Bill 9 early Sunday morning

Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, left, is congratulated by Quebec Premier François Legault after the vote at the National Assembly in Quebec City on Sunday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

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Quebec's new rules on immigration could be an attempt by the provincial government to wrest more powers from Ottawa, according to an expert on immigration.

"Permanent residency and admission are [the] jurisdiction of the federal government," said Mireille Paquet, who is Concordia Research Chair on the Politics of Immigration.

"So a law that would limit permanent residencies or put conditions on permanent residency not only goes against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Values — Article 6 — but also kind of calls into question the constitutionality of the law," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"It seems to me — and one of the ways we could think about this — is the government of Quebec actually trying to set out this law as a way to go and ask for more power [from] Ottawa."

The Quebec National Assembly passed Bill 9 early Sunday morning, granting the Coalition Avenir Québec government more authority over who receives permanent residency in the province.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said that the legislation was intended to change "the immigration system in the public interest, because we have to make sure that we have an immigration tied to the needs of the labour market."

The legislation also sets out the framework for a yet-to-be-determined "values test" that applicants would have to pass, and will allow the government to cancel approximately 16,000 applications for permanent residency that were already in process.

More than 300 protesters took to the streets in Montreal to protest Bill 21 on Monday evening. (Claire Loewen/CBC)

On Sunday the government also passed Bill 21, which prohibits public sector workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols, such as the hijab.

Compared to other provinces, Quebec already has additional powers on immigration, in what the federal government's website calls "a special agreement."

The province conducts an initial screening stage to choose "immigrants who will adapt well to living there," based on its own criteria, such as fluency in the French language.

If chosen, applicants can then apply to the federal government for permanent residency. There are some exceptions for refugees and relatives of Canadian citizens.

Mireille Paquet said it would be 'surprising if Quebec can secure more powers.' (Submitted by Mireille Paquet)

Paquet said it would be "surprising" if the province can secure even more powers.

Given the uncertainty that comes with having a federal election in the fall, "it remains really unclear whether Quebec will be able to get those powers," she said.

To discuss the new law and how it will affect migrants, business and provincial politics, Tremonti spoke to:

  • Fernanda Pérez-Gay Juárez, a medical doctor from Mexico who has been living in Montreal since completing a PhD in neuroscience in 2013. Her application for permanent residency is among those that may be scrapped.
  • Kathy Megyery, the vice president of strategy and economic affairs at the Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce. She welcomes Bill 9 because she says "a labour shortage is really the number one issue facing businesses."
  • Mireille Paquet, Concordia Research Chair on the Politics of Immigration, and author of Province Building and the Federalization of Immigration.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Imogen Birchard, Samira Mohyedding and Jessica Linzey.